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in the grand deeds of great men (and the smallest of gestures)

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“At least you’ll make it home in time for dinner, right?” Tonks asks cheerfully.

Bill laughs before he can help himself, even though he’s hip-deep in freezing water. “Don’t say that like it’s a good thing, I know you’ve met my mother.”

“She’s a good cook,” is Tonks’s verdict, and she squints at the water in front of Bill. “That another one, then?”

Bill looks, but it’s darker than the pale rot-grey of the Inferi, so he shakes his head. “Log,” he decides, and keeps going, hissing when frigid water rises to cover formerly warm skin. “How long do we have until the tide’s out?”

Tonks casts a Tempus charm, the ghostly glow of it almost invisible against the bright witchlight they conjured all through the cave. Bill hates having to work in the dark when it’s not required, and especially so when he’s dealing with a Dark Lord’s handiwork. “About an hour,” Tonks says, and Bill can feel her eyes on him, bright and curious even though she’s been exiled to the cave’s small center island now that Bill’s cleared it. She might be an Auror, but this is Curse Breaker work, and Dumbledore asked Bill specifically. Tonks is here in case there's a fire-fight; Bill can handle a few Inferi and some curses. The pharaohs of the Third Dynasty were a damn sight more creative than any English Dark Lord could ever hope to be.

An hour until the water is at its shallowest isn't terrible; Bill’s certainly had to wait longer in more inconvenient places, and he can keep doing the basics in the meantime. The spell to freeze the Inferi will hold, and if Bill can get them up on the island, it will be a lot easier to disenchant them. Salt water has funny reactions with magic, sometimes, and Bill doesn’t want to take any chances here.

“A little more light?” he calls back.

“Yessir,” Tonks agrees cheerfully, and spell-light flares above his head, illuminating at least the first few feet of water around him. Bill waves his thanks, peering down into the green depths, and—

There. Not an Inferi after all, but something similar, at least in shape. A body, but there's some kind of shimmer around it, like a spell. Bill pauses, considering for a long moment, then says, “I’m going under for a minute, Tonks.”

“Start the timer, then?” Tonks asks, and her voice is light but she’s watching him carefully.

Bill rather wishes he had a full team for this, but one Auror on the beach will have to be enough. “Ten minutes,” he confirms, casting her a grin. “And don’t tell my mother.”

Tonks laughs. “You say that like your mother will invite me to dinner,” she jokes.

Bill rolls his eyes, because his mother will, she’ll just have opinions about it. “She’ll think we’re dating,” he corrects dryly, and Tonks almost falls off her perch. It makes Bill laugh, and before Tonks can splutter out a response he casts a bubble-head charm, steels himself, and ducks under the surface of the water.

The bottom of the lake slopes steeply here, heading back towards the sea, and while it’s not quite above Bill’s head when he’s standing, it’s deep enough to make things difficult. Carefully, he slides up to the body, wary of any Inferi their charm may have missed, but nothing is stirring in the weeds. The pearlescent sheen that spreads across the body masks its features, but Bill can make out dark robes, pale skin; a wizard, without doubt, and there’s some sort of preservation charm on him, since the robes haven’t rotted at all. Given the amount of seaweed tangled around his body, he’s been here a while already. Maybe as long as the Inferi have.

Bill frowns to himself, holding out a hand to test the edges of the spell. One of Voldemort’s victims, maybe? But Voldemort’s never shied away from killing before, and this seems a strange place to leave a body, especially so carefully preserved, when Voldemort usually liked people knowing exactly who he’d murdered.

Cautiously, Bill draws his wand, flicks it out in a passive sensing charm, and raises a brow when there isn't even a flicker of red in the misty cloud of light. Whatever spell is on him, it’s nothing reactive, nothing aggressive. Not a curse, but a charm, and Bill’s more than aware that the areas between can be grey sometimes, but there's usually an indication of that, at the very least.

Nothing here, though. Just a flat, steady stasis spell, unwavering even when Bill ghosts a touch across the perimeter of the spell.

There are no other charms, either, or they're victims of the stasis spell, so Bill surfaces, getting to his feet with an effort as water sluices off of him. Grimaces, shakes himself, but doesn’t bother with a drying charm just yet. He casts a different spell instead, carefully aimed, and a rectangle of murky water rises from the depths of the lake to hover above the surface, then slowly drifts back towards shore as Bill slogs up the slope.

“That’s not an Inferi, is it?” Tonks asks curiously, leaning forward with an intent expression. Her hair, sunshine yellow today, catches the witchlight like a halo of gold tipped with poison-green, and Bill can't help but smile a little.

“Not as far as I can tell,” he confirms, and lowers the body down on the stone. There's a burst of water as he cancels the spell, flooding back towards the lake, and suddenly the body is clear. Without the reflection of the murky water around him, Bill can pick out dark hair, a wand clutched in one hand. Not a lax hand, though, and Bill’s breath catches in his throat.

“Merlin’s balls,” he mutters, and drops to his knees, immediately reaching out again. His fingers touch the edge of the charm, meet faint resistance, but—

Under the steady thrum of the spell, there's something else. Something darker, harsher, twisted up with threads of grey.

“It’s a Stolen Breath Curse,” he says, disbelieving, and brings his wand down in a sharp, quick slash. The stasis spell pops like a soap bubble, and Bill leans in, fingers immediately going to the man’s throat. The teenager’s throat—he can't be much more than eighteen, vaguely familiar in a way Bill can't quite put his finger on, but he can't be bothered when there's the faintest thready trace of a pulse beating in that cold throat. Not blood, but magic—he might as well be dead right now except for the spell in his veins.

“Got a live one, then?” Tonks asks cheerfully, but her expression is sharp as she joins Bill, crouching down on the other side of the body with her wand in hand. She eyes the man’s wand, then carefully reaches out and plucks it from his grasp, setting it aside.

Bill isn't about to argue. Despite what his family seems to think, Bill’s work is a lot more about care and caution than recklessness and charging into dangerous situations, and he knows what risks don’t need to be taken. “It’s a curse from the Early Middle Ages,” he says, and brushes a finger over the man’s forehead. No mark, but from what Bill’s read the crown that would normally be there is symbolic more than anything, part of the ritual but not necessary to the curse itself. “Muggle fairy tales, with the sleeping princesses? That’s the Stolen Breath Curse. It was mad popular for a while, but it’s dangerous to cast.”

“You-Know-Who definitely likes dangerous,” Tonks points out, and pokes the captured wand. “And obscure.”

But Bill is already shaking his head. “It’s dangerous for the caster,” he clarifies, and reaches up to tug at his earring, unable to fight a frown. “It’s supposed to hurt, too. Why would he still have his wand, if someone was cursing him? It’s not a quick spell.” And, of course, there's the question of why use it at all, since people under this particular curse are usually supposed to be found and rescued.

“Can you break it?” Tonks tips her head, squinting faintly at the man’s face, and then scratches at her hair. “Merlin, he looks familiar.”

Bill shoots her a surprised glance. “I thought so, too,” he agrees. “Someone we met, then?”

Tonks laughs. “Not a lot of overlap, even if we’re both the kids of blood traitors,” she points out, and glances up at Bill, raising her brows with a grin. They're green, too, Bill notes with some amusement. “Well, Mister Curse-Breaker?”

The Stolen Breath Curse is hardly unknown. People have even broken it before, which makes it a damn sight easier to deal with than most of the curses Bill trips over in his work. “It’s not precisely hard,” he says dryly, because the method isn't. “Want to give me some room?”

“Sure!” Tonks scrambles to her feet, trips over the hem of her robes, and almost cartwheels back before she manages to catch herself with a cheerful curse. Bill raises an eyebrow at her, but she waves him on unconcernedly, and he rolls his eyes but goes back to the stranger. Leans over him, taking in high cheekbones, an aristocratic nose, long, damp lashes against his cheeks. Familiar, still, and it itches at Bill’s mind like a word that’s on the tip of his tongue but still forgotten.

The who doesn’t matter much, though. If Voldemort cursed him, left him in this cave with one of his most valuable possessions, odds are good he’ll know something that can help the Order. And even if he doesn’t, saving people from Voldemort is the point. Bill’s not about to let him languish under a curse when there's any other option.

Taking a breath, he closes his eyes, centers himself. It’s like any other curse, really, and the breaking of it is simple. Opposite intent, as with most of them, and a particular edge of will. Opposite action, too, and Bill tucks his damp hair behind his ears, leans down over the still form, and very carefully fits his mouth over the strangers. Breathes out, because a breath returned is enough to break this curse, and—

A gasp, and grey eyes fly open. A hand comes up, and Bill catches it, squeezes gently, keeps breathing. He can feel the spell leaving the man’s body, sliding away as the shared breath fills his lungs, and the man can feel it, too. There's a sound of relief against Bill’s lips, and those eyes fall shut. Fingers cup the back of Bill’s head, and Bill smiles into the kiss, eases it back, sits up.

“Back in the land of the living?” he asks lightly.

The man gets an elbow underneath himself, pushes up to sit, and rakes a hand through slightly shaggy black hair. “Apparently,” he says, and it should be a drawl, sardonic and pointed, but there's too much relief and too much grim victory for that. “I—who are you? Why are you here?”

Bill glances over at Tonks, who waves her hands, dropping the decision squarely in his lap. Making a face at her, Bill looks back at the man, debates for a moment, and then says, “We’re with the Order of the Phoenix.”

Silver-grey eyes go wide, and in an instant the man is slumping, burying his face in his hands. “Blessed Morgana,” he says. “You’re here—?”

“For the Horcrux,” Bill finishes gently, and the man looks up at him, startled.

“Kreacher has it,” he says, and Bill’s heart misses a beat. “Or he had it. I—I drank the potion, and I gave it to him to destroy.”

Kreacher?” Bill asks. “The Blacks’ house elf, that Kreacher?”

The man stares at him, bemused. “I'm Regulus Black,” he says. “What other house elf would I mean?”

What?” Tonks squawks, and it’s enough to make Regulus jump. He turns to look at her as she stumbles close, and Bill’s never seen her look quite so caught off guard. “You're my cousin Regulus?”

“Most likely,” Regulus says slowly, looking her over. “You're…”

“Andromeda’s daughter,” Tonks says. “Tonks.”

“Daughter,” Regulus repeats, and it’s numb. He stares at her for another moment, then presses a hand to his forehead, fingers knotting in his hair. “I—what year is it?”

“1995.” Bill reaches out, catching his hand and gently pulling it down. “I'm Bill. Bill Weasley. Are you sure Kreacher got away with the Horcrux? Whoever cursed you—”

Regulus barks out a laugh, unnervingly similar to Sirius’s. “I cursed me,” he cuts in. “The potion in the bowl—it made me thirsty, half-mad with it, and I tried to drink from the lake, but there were Inferi. They pulled me down, and it was all I could think of to be functionally dead without the headache of actually dying.”

Bill rocks back on his heels, entirely startled. That’s an incredibly complicated curse, and to do it while in the grip of a very nasty potion, being dragged under by Inferi—he’s impressed. Not to mention that he found out about the Horcrux, when it took Dumbledore years of suspicions and research to figure out Voldemort’s means of immortality.

“Well, that’s certainly the most creative use of it I've ever seen,” he says, and when Regulus gives him a narrow look he grins. “Mad but effective.”

Humor touches Regulus’s mouth, softens his face just slightly. “My brother will never let me live it down,” he says. “Provided we’re ever on speaking terms again.”

Telling him that Sirius is a fugitive trapped in their ancestral home can wait at least a few minutes. Bill rises to his feet and offers him a hand, and a smile to go with it. “Up to standing?” he asks. “That potion was a nasty one.”

“Out of my system, I think,” Regulus says, and grimaces, raising his fingers to his throat even as he takes Bill’s hand. “Apparently the Inferi weren’t the only things fooled by me playing dead.”

It doesn’t mean he’s perfectly well, though; he wavers once he’s on his almost stumbles, but Tonks catches free elbow and Bill gets an arm around his waist, and Regulus sags between them, eyes closed as he tries to catch his balance.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, barely a whisper, and if he wasn’t so closely caught between them, Bill might have missed it.

“I don’t pass kisses around to every sleeping prince I find, you know,” he teases, and the offended scowl Regulus flashes him makes him grin. “You’re welcome, though.”

Regulus huffs, but he doesn’t stop leaning on Bill as they make for the small boat pulled up on the shore. “I need to talk to Professor Dumbledore,” he says with ragged determination. “If he’s found the Horcrux—”

“Horcruxes,” Tonks corrects, and when Regulus gives her a horrified look, she grins back, all teeth. “You’ve missed a bit, cousin.”

“Apparently,” Regulus breathes, white as a ghost. “Even so—”

“We’ll get you to the Order,” Bill promises. “You’ll be safe there.”

Regulus doesn’t look entirely like he believes it, but he squares his shoulders and nods once, short and sharp.

He needn’t worry. Bill’s going to make sure that no one touches so much as a hair on his head, and he makes that promise to himself, knowing full well that he’s going to keep it.